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Looking to Launch an App? Tips from a Mobile Expert

By Justin Keller | November 30, 2012 | Chief Mobility Officer | Original Article

Business has gone mobile: A recent study found that 59 percent of companies are already making custom enterprise mobile apps, while another 71 percent have plans to do so in the near future.

But while companies have spent $10 billion on mobile apps in the past three years, 70 percent of apps will be tossed because they lack a mobile strategy, according to Mobile Enterprise. That’s a lot, considering custom apps can cost a business anywhere from $20,000 to $150,000. How can companies create apps that employees actually use and provide return on investment?

We asked Mike Peloquin, vice president of sales and marketing at Texas-based Nitro Mobile Solutions — which has designed custom apps for Harley Davidson, Home Depot, and Lexus, among others — for advice on developing custom enterprise apps.

CMO: What’s the main benefit of commissioning a custom app rather than an off-the-shelf one?

Peloquin: Custom apps refer to apps created to optimize the business in some way that is unique, meaningful, and specific their business model. For instance, perhaps it’s optimizing a specific sales process to an iPad in order for a field sales team to place orders while sitting with a customer. Perhaps it’s moving executive decision-making out of the office and into the physical hands of the execs, wherever they are. Or connecting a partner ecosystem to its back-end systems for faster, more flexible data-access and transactions.

What about ready-made, but customizable apps, like those from Salesforce?

I would expect that software vendors will rapidly move to offer a mobilized version of their products like ServiceMax and to name a couple. These are great examples of how the enterprise is taking advantage of mobile technologies and companies are addressing a need. To answer the question of when you should use apps like these versus something custom, it comes down to the business goals, and the mission they envision for their mobile strategy. Often these [missions] fall well beyond the edges of vertical and template-like mobile apps.

Formulating a mobile strategy is a fundamental effort for saving time and money. It will uncover whether a business really needs an app, which probably sounds strange coming from me.

What design tips would you offer companies looking to build their own apps?
I love this question. Because mobile apps are still very new to many businesses, many need guidance and this question is front and center. So we ask, Do you really need a mobile app? It sounds silly to ask, but a business should be in a proactive, not reactive, mode. Who are you building the app for? What will they use it for and how, and what is your expectation of success? From there we ask specifics — mobile OS and device preference; native, Web app, or hybrid? And more.

A few tips we offer:

  1. Have a plan ready to speak about with an app company. It helps the business to focus their objectives before they engage a vendor — even if it’s a Word doc or Powerpoint.
  2. Consider your audience and their expectations for usability. Mobile apps have created in all of us the idea that “it should just work.” We’re all spoiled and with Twitter and Facebook, bad experiences get known fast.
  3. Make it easy to use, and provide value. It’s about respecting design. And don’t force the user to go through too many hoops to use the app. [Think of] value in terms of what they get out of it: If it’s a sales person, they find the app useful to manage their pipeline, etc.
  4. Think in steps. Version 1, Version 2, and so on. This will help align budgets, expectations, and time to market.

What should these companies be sure to steer clear of?

Don’t overcomplicate the process with everything being a must-have. If this is your first mobile application, try a crawl-walk-run approach. You’ll learn so much in Version 1 that will inform Version 2, and so on. No. 2, do your homework. There are a lot of app-development companies out there and many outsource development to another group or country. Find a vendor that addresses your needs and is not trying to fit you onto a template app. And No. 3, make sure you have control of content, ongoing management, and access (if the app talks to back-end systems). You want a development partner you can engage when needed, not a money pit.